New Faculty Q & A with Laura Thaut Vinson
August 22, 2017
J.R. Howard Hall
I completed my Ph.D. and M.A. in political science (comparative politics & international relations emphases) at the University of Minnesota, and my B.A. in political science/international studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.
Research and Teaching Interests:
African politics, religious change/politics in the global south, civil war/ethnic conflict, humanitarianism.
What most excites you about joining the L&C community?
Working closely with L&C’s bright students, and having the opportunity to teach courses that hopefully inform and inspire their future careers—the way my own professors inspired me. I am also very fortunate to be joining such a unique and well-respected international affairs department; it’s unusual for international affairs to have the kind of presence and interest it does here, and I feel honored to be coming aboard!
Describe the current trajectory of your scholarly research.
With the regular reports of ethnic conflicts tearing communities apart around the world, my research has primarily focused on explaining the conditions under which ethnic identity – religious identity in particular – becomes a fault line of communal violence. This research has taken me on fieldwork adventures to Nigeria, and my book Religion, Violence, and Local Power-Sharing in Nigeria will be coming out early this fall.I was back in Nigeria summer 2016 carrying out a new survey experiment project that studies how local perceptions of the particular “ethnic” dimensions of conflict (e.g., tribal, religious) shape attitudes towards ethnic counterparts, the causes of the crises, and possibilities for peace. In future research, I hope to look more specifically at state policies towards religious minorities and the strategies religious minorities pursue to advocate for and protect their rights.
What kind of hobbies or special activities do you enjoy outside of work?
Golf, hiking, reading any classics (especially the Russians), and I love table tennis. I did a bit of competitive table tennis growing up (think Forest Gump…okay, not quite), but I haven’t had much of a chance to play in the last few years.
What were your childhood goals/aspirations?
I long dreamed of becoming a professional ballerina. When I realized that wouldn’t happen, my goal became simply to survive college, get a history degree, return to Montana, and live a solitary life in the mountains (in a house with a porch, a tire swing, and a creek nearby), supporting myself by working as a secretary at some quiet office. True story. Everything changed, however, when Sept 11th occurred two weeks into college and I consequently discovered political science/international affairs.
What are you listening to in your car right now?
“Religion in Victorian America” disc 28 of 42 from the History of the United States (Great Courses series). Let’s just say we had a long drive moving from Oklahoma to Oregon.
What was your favorite childhood story?
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, along with anything in the Nancy Drew mysteries series or Sherlock Holmes compendium.